Community Engagement in the Gaming Industry

slot machineGambling is fun — the rush, the bright colors, the chance to press your luck and win big money. But let’s be honest. Vegas is often synonymous with excess — cash, sex, fashion, food and booze, which isn’t exactly sustainable. When you’re up, you’re up, and you can easily spend a month’s rent on party time. But at the end of the day, every tourist destination has effective ways of removing dollars from its guests’ pockets, and people are free to participate or leave their cash in the bank. There are plenty of vacation destinations, and over 39 million people choose Las Vegas for theirs every year — and 85 percent of them are repeat visitors.

Such is my dilemma with the gaming and hospitality industry. Casinos make people happy; they are a popular vacation destinations, and they are job creators (46 percent of the workforce in southern Nevada is employed in tourism). But casinos can also have plenty of negative economic impacts.

Nevertheless, every company on the planet can work to operate more sustainably and improve the community where it does business. Every company has many good people working at it too, and I’ve never met a member of a corporate sustainability team I didn’t like. Last week I got to meet the team at MGM Resorts, on the occasion of the Women’s Leadership Conference, sponsored by the MGM Foundation. The conference was a gathering of more than 800 women (and a few men), aimed at inspiring and motivating executives to move forward in their careers. While the conference had a few too many motivational speakers for my personal taste, I was clearly in the minority. Just take a look at some of these tweets from happy attendees:

Overwhelmingly, this was a happy crowd. The conference is just one of MGM Resorts’ attempts to advance minority populations and engage employees and community members alike. Diversity is a material issue for MGM Resorts, since 65 percent of their 62,000 employees are minorities.

The Women’s Leadership Conference is in its eighth year and was born of a collaboration between Phyllis A. James, MGM Resorts International executive vice president and chief diversity officer, and several members of the Las Vegas community.  The original concept was a conference for women of color, but three years ago the conference shifted its focus to women in general. James explained, “All women share similar issues in terms of professional development, career development, professional tools that are necessary to prepare for leadership, job, family and community.” James went on to explain why the advancement of women and minorities is a natural business practice for MGM Resorts:

“If you’re interested in reaching the highest level of development as a business, you want to develop all your talent: women, people of color. There’s a war for talent and companies find it’s in their business interests to be open to all types of talent. You never know who’s going to be your best performer. If you want to be super competitive, it’s in your best interests to embrace diversity.”

MGM Resorts also has an impressive record on inspiring its employees to make their own lives personally sustainable through the MyGreenAdvantage platform from WeSpire. The platform is a voluntary initiative to let employees get credit for environmental actions taken at home. Despite the fact that it’s voluntary, MGM Resorts has seen impressive adoption by employees: 22 percent of the staff have signed up. (That would be 13,600 people for those counting at home. Nearly half of those participants check in to record an action at least once a month.)

The program has uncovered a number of personal sustainability evangelists throughout the organization including Bryan, a part-time dealer at Gold Strike Tunica who went out of his way to email Director of Sustainable Operations & Communications Sarah Moore, who oversees the program, and tell her how excited he was to have an outlet for his environmental leanings. He’s become an environmental leader at the Gold Strike Tunica property and reports that MyGreenAdvantage makes it more fun to come to work. The program has even inspired competition between teams and properties to see who can be the most sustainable (Aria and Bellagio are currently going head to head).

While participation and reporting are both voluntary and the program relies on self-reporting, the WeSpire software picks up on unusual engagement patterns, like suddenly logging in and reporting an unlikely amount of water conservation. “In that case, it becomes an HR situation,” explains Sarah Moore, because the company reports on the number of actions taken and wants those numbers to be accurate. The next step for the team is to roll out MyGreenAdvantage at work, to let employees get credit for the environmental actions taken while they are on the job.

When asked about some of the problems that come from gambling: addiction, increased alcohol consumption and further degradation to already impoverished communities, Phyllis James explained that MGM Resorts has an overall positive impact on the communities where it does business, in terms of employment, tax revenue, charitable gifts and overall community benefit.

“Our company is the largest employer and taxpayer in Nevada. We recognize that our gaming license is a privilege. With that privilege comes responsibility to be an economic leader, political leader and social leader. The Women’s Leadership Conference is just one way in which we exercise that leadership.”

Whether or not philanthropic and sustainability activities can overcome any negative repercussions from a company’s activities, it’s clear to me that this conference and the employee engagement undertaken by MGM Resorts had a positive impact on participants.

Image credit: Raging Wire, Flickr

Full disclosure: MGM Resorts put me up while I attended the conference on a press pass. 

Jen Boynton

Jen Boynton is editor in chief of TriplePundit and editorial director at 3BL Media. With over 6 million annual readers, TriplePundit is the leading publication on sustainable business and the Triple Bottom Line. Prior to TriplePundit, Jen received an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School. In her work with TriplePundit she's helped clients from SAP to PwC to Fair Trade USA with their sustainability communications messaging. When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA -- court appointed special advocate for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.

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